Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Service Bulletins and the Owner/Operators Responsibility Regarding Their Compliance

I was working on a civil case for the defendant where the plaintiff had stipulated in their Complaint that the defendant had sold to the plaintiff an aircraft with full knowledge and intent that the aircraft was in an unairworthy condition at the time of the sale. One of the claims was that the defendant had not complied with the manufacturers Mandatory Service Bulletin that addressed installing inspection panels in the engine cowlings that would allow for easier access to inspect an area that was normally difficult to inspect. This was indeed a good idea, but the question here is whether or not this MSB was required by Regulations to be complied with.

Here is how this stuff works in the real world. Here in the US there is one government agency that has complete jurisdiction over all aviation related matters, and that is the FAA. Only the FAA can mandate and enforce policy regarding all matters in the aviation sector. These policies are contained within Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations parts 1 through 183 which makes up the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR). With that said then it is clear that the owners/operators responsibility concerning their aircraft is contained in these FAR’s and is not put forth by the manufacturer. The manufacturer may place titles on their SB’s like “Mandatory” or “Emergency” and highlight them with big red strips to make them look official, but the question is do they have the right to force these into action.

Anyone operating under Part 91 of the FAR’s shall maintain their aircraft in accordance with that Part. The basic includes having the aircraft inspected annually, an Annual Inspection, and complying with all applicable Airworthiness Directives (AD). SB compliance is not required by FAR.

Now if you are operating under another Part, such as Part 135 Commuter and On-demand (commercial operator) then things will be different. Now you will need to comply with everything under that Part. In this situation you will be required to have an approved Operations Specifications (Op Specs) which may contain addition maintenance requirements. These Op Specs are now considered to be an extension of the FAR’s and are just as legally binding. If within those requirements it is spelled out that you will follow the Manufacturers maintenance procedures and within those procedures it is called out for the compliance of specific SB’s, then these SB’s are now mandatory.

Generally speaking, as a private operator SB compliance is not mandatory, and as a commercial operator their compliance may be required depending on the operators Operation Specifications.

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